MENU Magazine is thrilled to shine a light on RC Show’s Beyond the Rail Cocktail Competition First Place Winner Monique Godinho, Bartender at Sunny’s Chinese in Toronto, Ontario.
Monique Godinho, 29, began her career as a breadbasket girl at the Portuguese Cultural Center in Kingston, Ontario. “When I was 10 my mother was a big part of our Portuguese community in Kingston and would hire servers for events at the Cultural Center,” she reminisces. “I would go around and fill up your basket with bread and butter and that’s how it all began.”
At 19, after working at a variety of restaurants in Kingston, Godinho moved to Toronto to study marketing at George Brown. Needing a way to support herself as a full-time student, she began working as a server at Jack Astor’s on John Street and was eventually promoted to her first bartender role while also experiencing her first-ever cocktail. “It was the Gimlet, a Gin Gimlet. No sugar, just lime juice, and Gin.” From there she went on to spend time at Pizzeria Libretto, The Drake Hotel, The Cloak Bar at Marben, Bar Buca, Miku Toronto, W Hotel, and Bar Raval, most recently opening at Sunny’s Chinese, located in the former home of Cold Tea in Kensington Market. “I get to work the bar with some really talented people who I”ve worked with in the past,” she says, “it’s very joyous for me.”
It’s the people, specifically the female role models, which keep Godinho going in what can often be a tough industry. People like the late Sandy De Almeida, a master mixologist well-known as a staunch cheerleader for Toronto’s cocktail scene, Evelyn Chick, Christina Vera, Kelsey Ramage, and Kate Boushe.
The challenges in this industry can be endless: toxic masculinity, challenging guests, ongoing supply issues, and most challenging of all the toll the industry can take on mental health due to the late nights and long hours,” says Godhino. “It’s people like Sandy and others in this industry that keep me doing what I’m doing.
It’s that support that formed the foundation of a strong friendship with her competition partner Sally Gillespie, currently the Bar Manager at Bar Raval. The two met and worked together at Bar Raval for about two years before entering the 2022 RC Show Beyond the Rail Cocktail Competition.
Godhino is no stranger to competitions, having won first place in the 2020 RC Show Beyond the Rail Cocktail Competition. “It’s a great opportunity for me to showcase my talents and ability to produce really beautiful products with Sally as my partner. It’s really important for someone like me who wants to travel and work around the world and eventually get my own place. You have to put yourself in these situations.” Godhino and Gillespie have also competed in the Speed Rack Cocktail Canada Competition, an all-female charity bartending competition designed to highlight up-and-coming self-identifying females in the cocktail industry and give back to those impacted by breast cancer.
The theme of this year’s RC Show Beyond the Rail competition was “Revival”, with a focus on sustainability, which for Godhino, means a lot of different things. “It’s about the products you use, it’s about how you treat them while using them and how you treat them after you’ve used them,” she explains. When it came to the theme of revival in this year’s competition, Godhino and Gillepsie thought about the revival of life post-Covid. Says Godhino: “We thought about the revival of people and the revival of the world getting back to its day-to-day norms.”
As part of the competition rules, all competitors were required to incorporate a sponsored product, a mystery item from the RC Show floor, and their own proprietary house-made ingredients into two signature cocktails – an “Ideal Celebratory Drink” and a “Showpiece” both which needed to reflect the spirit of their drinking establishment. Keen on bringing their drinks back to basics while also making them fun, easy, and attainable for everyone, the team developed two winning cocktails. Calling their ideal celebratory drink “A Night in Jalisco”, the team created a riff on a boiler maker margarita, aka a frozen margarita topped off with a beer. Their showpiece cocktail was aptly named “High Tea in Low Times”, a Manhattan-style cocktail where a pear syrup fortified with sherry replaced the vermouth.
The team used a homemade spicy Tepache – a fermented beverage made from the peel and rind of pineapples sweetened with brown sugar – and a super lime juice made by adding citric and malic acids, as their proprietary ingredients for the Mexican-inspired margarita. They also incorporated Hornitos Tequila, an Innis and Gunn Caribbean Rum Cask, and a Tajin rim, and served it in a vintage margarita glass sourced from the showroom floor. “We wanted to keep the celebration a little light and fun because it’s been such a dark period that we’ve all gone through,” explains Godhino.
For the second drink, all teams had to use ingredients pre-determined by the competition: Maker’s Mark bourbon and two mystery ingredients – Asian Pear and tea. Godhino and Gillespie decided to poach the Asian Pears in the tea and added a medium dry sherry and sugar, ending up with fortified pear syrup. They made a bourbon cocktail with aromatic bitters and presented the cocktail in a tall bottle with multiple glasses for sharing.
Godhino feels what makes her and Gillespie a good team is their ability to be very real with each other. “We have an open and honest relationship and we’re not afraid to tell the other person when they’re wrong or right or when they’re doing a great job or a bad job which has allowed us to build such a strong base for our friendship,” says Godhino. “We also have very similar palettes when it comes to building cocktails, so we’re always tasting and trying different things.”
They have also had to navigate the bartending industry which can be challenging for females. Godhino’s best advice is to not let someone make you feel like you’re not worth it.
As a female in the food and beverage industry, nothing is going to come easy. Don’t apologize, don’t ever let someone tell you to change the way you are to fit into a certain box
“The places where you want to work are going to respect you for the work that you do and the person that you are.” Godhino often heard that she was too intense and serious. “But those are the parts of me that make me so good at my job and why I’m able to create such awesome drinks. It’s my intensity that fuels my passion for what I do.”
When she’s not creating badass cocktails, Godhino loves to be outdoors where she enjoys hiking, going to the beach, and camping. She also enjoys hitting a bag: “I got into boxing because I was a bartender – bartender boxing led me to box.” She also enjoys good food and dancing. “I like to eat – that’s a hobby and you’ll never find a moment in my life where I’m not listening to music or dancing.”
As to what her home bar looks like and suggestions as to what everyone should have as bar basics, Godhino starts with tools and tequila. “I always have a jigger and a strainer and I always have a bottle or five of tequila in my home bar. You can never have too much tequila,” she laughs. Godhino is also obsessed with glassware and will often go thrifting and stop at estate sales to add to her rapidly expanding glassware collection.
At home, Godhino prefers to drink her spirits straight instead of making a cocktail. “I really enjoy tasting the spirit for what it is and pulling away notes from the spirit that you wouldn’t necessarily be able to pull when making cocktails and mixing in citruses and modifiers.” Dry vermouth, Plymouth Gin, and Fino Sherry, the driest and palest of the traditional varieties of sherry, all have a solid place at her bar.
She also recommends a proper mixing glass, ideally made of crystals to generate the appropriate amount of chill and dilution when stirring a drink, and a set of tins that fit together nicely, such as her favourite – Koriko tins. Most importantly Godhino recommends always having a good wine key on hand because “you never know when you’re going to have to open a bottle of wine.”